The draft is over but the Nashville Predators haven’t slowed down.
Monday afternoon David Poile, Predators president of hockey operations/general manager, announced that defenseman Shea Weber had signed a three-year deal that will pay a total of $13.5 million. Poile also officially announced that goaltender Dan Ellis has signed his two-year deal worth a total $3.5 million.
“I knew this was going to happen sooner or later,” Weber said. “It’s nice to have it off of my mind so I can get back to just training for the rest of the summer.”
Weber, 23, is considered to be one of the core players for the Predators.
“Whether you are talking to David Poile, our coaches, players on our team or any of my counterparts in the NHL, Shea Weber is the player that is talked about as having the most potential and the most upside in terms of young players,” Poile said. “I think Shea is a big time player.
“He is big. He is strong. He can be mean. Offensively, you don’t want to stand in front of his shot. He is a guy I’m sure is going to score 20 goals a season in this league because of his shot and the power play.”
In the 2007-2008 season Weber missed 28 games due to injuries but still set a career high for average time on the ice (19:29) and tied personal bests in shots with 152 and game-winning goals with two. He finished with 20 points (six goals) in the regular season. In the Stanley Cup playoffs he led the Predators in points with four (one goal).
“He had a difficult season,” Poile said. “He was hurt in the first game of the season. Then he came back and got hurt again with a high ankle sprain. It does eventually get better, but it becomes a confidence factor with the pivoting, turning, starting and stopping in a hockey game.”
The 2006-2007 season is his most impressive to this point with 17 goals, tops among the Predators’ defensemen, and 40 points. He led the team in hits with 165.
“Shea had a fantastic season in 06-07,” said Poile. “He was compared to some of the All-Star defensemen in the league.”
Weber, Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Suter form the trio that sets the pace for the defense.
“Those three young kids are going to be playing even more minutes whether it is two or three or more and they are going to be playing in more important situations,” Poile said. “They have a chance to play here for a lot of years together.”
Weber and Suter were both selected in the 2003 Entry Draft here in Nashville. Weber is excited that the two will be together at least the next several years along with Hamhuis.
“The Predators organization has shown confidence in us,” Weber said. “They are expecting us to be the guys.
“This shows what we did last year. We battled through some tough times. Everybody on this team wants to win. We want to win the Stanley Cup. We aren’t too far from making that next step.”
Poile stresses the team concept in hockey, which is why he felt it was so important to spend the money to keep the key parts of this team together.
“This is not a bunch of individuals,” Poile said. “This isn’t about putting a lot of all-stars together. This is a team sport.
“You can’t just put a team together and be effective. The longer our guys can play together, jell together and believe in each other and be willing to go to war for each other are the things that give you a good chance of winning.”
When Weber’s contract is over he will still have two more years as a restricted free agent.
“We talked about a shorter contract and longer contract,” Poile said. “For sure we will know where Shea stands among all NHL defensemen in three years. We got the deal that seemed to make both sides comfortable.”
The free agency period begins July 1, but the Predators don’t have a lot of extra cash on hand to make a major deal.
“We are above $40 million in the salary cap and we are below $55 million,” Poile said. “I’m happy that we have signed our players. Our players are way more important than any free agent that might be out there in order to solidify the foundation of this team.”
GELINAS STATUS UNKNOWN: Forward Martin Gelinas was a strong leader in the dressing room for the Predators and is one of the nicest players in the NHL. But he tore his ACL Feb. 21 and did not play the rest of the season. In 57 games he was credited with 20 points (nine goals).
“Gelinas is a great guy,” Poile said. “He called us at the draft to wish us good luck.
“I truly believe he wants to be here. I know he is going to play at least another year somewhere. No one has been training as hard as Marty Gelinas since he has been hurt. I have to sit down with the coaches and see what we want to do.”
The Predators have made qualifying offers to defensemen Kevin Klein and Ville Koistinen.